21 February 2012

Animal Instinct


by David Dean

My last posting concerned the grey hinterland of human mind control and was extremely taxing to write, so I often found myself contemplating the family's fifteen year old corgi as a means of  mental relaxation.  She seldom appeared to have a lot on her own mind, but napped in apparent comfort as I labored away.  Occasionally, she might stir herself to stretch and shift positions, or sit up to peer out the window onto our street.  This last would only happen if something truly important roused her, such as a UPS truck going by (she hates UPS...don't ask me why, as I've always equated the truck with Christmas gifts and happy times).  She, on the other hand, has held a grudge against Big Brown since she was a pup many moons ago.  By people years she is 105 and, apparently, has a long memory when it comes to grievances, real or imagined.  She holds the vacuum cleaner (any model) in the same contempt, and just as inexplicably.


A good corgi--not Silke
In case you don't know, a Welsh corgi is an ancient breed of cattle dog.  I found this idea laughable, at first, as Silke (that's her name--she was christened by my offspring who also found her) has short little legs and I couldn't imagine her herding cows, or even sheep, for that matter.  But then, I am a low and ignorant knave.  Corgi means dwarf in Welsh (hence the short leggies) and this allowed them to nip easily at the ankles of their wards while avoiding being kicked--being so low to the ground they can drop quickly beneath the damaging arc of the cow's hoof.  The official book on these furry devils warns, "Not for first-time owners".  That's right; that's what it says.  Care to guess what we were?

It seems this invaluable breed of canine tend to be bossy and are prone to nipping.  Thanks, kids.  I guess that shouldn't surprise anyone who knew what they were bred for--being bossy to a bunch of cows and nipping their hooves.  But I had no idea what the kids were getting us into.  Corgis are highly resistant to Mind Control.  This last is my own admonition as, believe me, I have tried.  But Silke remains serenely impervious to all attempts at training or discipline.  I gave up years ago--Pavlov did not use Welsh corgis in his famous experiment .  This shouldn't have surprised me, really, as my own progeny have also resisted my every effort at mind control.  It makes perfect sense that they should somehow, while on a trip to Virginia, manage to find just this dog in a pet store.  The shop owners claimed that they had no idea what kind of mutt it was...sure they didn't.

Though resistant to all discipline imposed upon them, corgis happily impose their own special brand of rules on everyone else.  For instance, running, and other erratic movements, are greatly discouraged, as are overt signs of physical affection, unless those affectionate overtures are directed at the corgi.  Try cuddling up to your loved one and soon the thick, furry body of the Adversary inserts itself betwixt the two of you like a mobile chastity pillow.  As for games of chase when the kids were younger...this was strictly forbidden!  Silke would fly into action by rapidly circling the offending parties in ever-tightening spirals until all motion was halted.  I cannot recall how many times I have tripped over this beastie.  I suspect that this latter trait is why corgis are so favored by the Queen of England--the herding instinct insures that all in the royal party will move about in a decorous manner; assume a stately progress.  The alternative is to be either tripped or bitten.  I have read that many of her guests (and family) despise the little beggars.

Did I mention that Silke hates all other canines?  With a passion.  She admits of no other dog being an ally or kindred spirit.  She recognizes no kinship.  I don't know if this applies to her own breed, as they are somewhat rare this side of the pond, but I suspect she would be just as unforgiving with them as any other.

Well, of course, those same children who had to have this creature, grew up and went away to college and thence to their own lives.  Silke and me are still here.  She thinks Robin, my wife, is just swell, though I am the one left mostly in charge of her...did I say, "in charge"?  Well, you get the picture.  I do the walks, the feedings, and now, the insulin injections.  Mostly, anyway.  Yes, she has diabetes and has had for the past four years.  The vet gave her a year at most after diagnosing her--if  we gave her the insulin.  I came from a background that was less than sentimental about pets, being descended from farm folk who routinely slaughtered barnyard animals and hunted game.  There were no pets, as such.  Yet, Silke has prevailed even against my notoriously budget-minded ways.  We buy the hideously expensive insulin.  She yet lives.

She has also appeared in a number of my stories.  She has played the protagonist, victim, and villain with equal aplomb.  I get a kick out of working her into my efforts from time to time.  Because the truth be told, her completely uncompromising nature, besides being infuriating, also charms and intrigues me.  Animals have always had this effect on me, and probably a third, or better, of everything I've ever written involves animals and nature in various roles both great and small--by my count, fourteen out of thirty stories.

Sometimes they just provide a bit of atmospheric background, such as the clutch of neighborhood turkey vultures in "The Vengeance of Kali".  In other stories they provide warnings, or are harbingers of something terrible coming--a small dog (possibly a corgi) in "Spooky"; a lizard in "Tap-Tap", while in some they are the victims, as a cat and corgi each in "The Mole" and "Whistle".  But, in the interest of fair-handedness, animals are sometimes the victimizers as well: a cougar and spider in "Natural Causes", a zoo tiger in "Copy Cat", a corgi in "Little Things" and in "The Wisdom Of Serpents"...yep, serpents. 

I didn't start out to write about animals so frequently; it just happened.  In fact, for the first ten years of my taking up the pen, I was unaware that I was doing so.  It was only after I had built up a small body of work that I gradually became cognizant of the recurrent nature of...well, nature, in my stories.

It's not that I write animal stories, as such, it's just that they figure in so often.  I'm not alone in this, oh no; in fact, several Big Shot Writers in the mystery and suspense field have gotten there long before me--E.A. Poe and H.H. Munro of past renown, as well as Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Doug Allyn of more recent note.  I stumble along in the paths of others.  But, I wouldn't be able to exclude wee beasties, and great, even if I wanted to.  They are all around us and figure into our lives though we dwell in suburbs or great cities. 

Just this morning, I was beckoned by a sparrow to open the door to my garage and free her.  This was not an isolated incident.  For some time now, whenever the weather is rough with rain or heavy winds, a sparrow hides herself (or himself) I'll never know which, within our attached garage as we pull the car in.  Come the morning, she begins to sing...loudly.    This is our cue to open the damn garage door and release her from her voluntary confinement.  This is accomplished on a regular basis.  At first, I thought it was just a case of the sparrow having inadvertently entered the garage and become trapped when we shut the door.  But repeated experience has shown me differently.  Is it the same bird, each time?  I will never be sure, but it is always a sparrow.  Additionally, there is no nest in the garage.  And it never happens when the weather is nice.  Also, she never sings while in the garage until daylight comes and the weather has cleared.  Gives the pejorative 'bird-brained' a slightly different slant, doesn't it?  But it does make me think, and whenever I do that I start to have ideas that sometime become stories, and when I write stories I become a happier person.  So, my little sparrow may not be the bluebird of happiness, and my dog may not be Lassie, but they both do me a world of good.

Sparrow

9 comments:

Jeff Baker said...

Jack London would be proud! (So would Thorne Smith and a host of others!)

Fran Rizer said...

And, David, your Silke did me a world of good this morning on a day when I needed some warm, fuzzy thoughts. Please give her a hug for me!

David Dean said...

Jeff, there's just something about the animal world that is so unknowable, and yet irrestible, isn't there? As you point out, others have certainly thought so.

Fran, I'm so glad that Silke was useful this morning. She often provides me confort, as well, though without any actual effort on her part. I know what you're going through is extremely tough--Robin and I went through a similar trial last summer and fall with her dad who lived with us throughout the hospice process. It was possibly the most taxing situation that we have ever experienced. You and your mom will be in our thoughts and prayers. Coincidentily, like you, I received a story rejection during this period that I needed about as much as being set on fire and having it put out with a shovel.

Remember, all of your fellow SleuthSayers are pulling for you.

Dale Andrews said...

Fran -- With you in our thoughts. Pat and I provided hospice care for my mother summer of 2010. One of the best things you can do and one of the hardest.

On a brighter note, whenever I read a dog story I am reminded of a line by Steve Allen. Describing someone who had been truly wronged he said that the "victim had the mournful eyes of a collie that had just been kicked by Albert Payson Terhune."

John Floyd said...

I'm a dog lover too, David--great column.

Dale, I like the line from Steve Allen. Here's another one, though I'm not sure who said it: "Outside of a dog, a man’s best friend is a book. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read."

Herschel Cozine said...

John,

That quote is from Groucho Marx.

John Floyd said...

I should've known that, Herschel--it sounds like something he would've said.

Dale Andrews said...

Nuts. I knew that was Groucho but didn't post fast enough to get the credit. By the way, I am still down in Alabama where, Groucho taught us, if we were to find an elephant the Tuscaloosa.

Jeff Baker said...

"A truth I need not stretch or shove/Is that the dog is full of love/And I have proved by actual test/A wet dog is the lovingest"
-----Ogden Nash (more or less!)